The biennial Walker Cup is a 10-man amateur golf team competition contested by the United States of America (USA) and Great Britain and Ireland (GB&I).
It is golf’s oldest international match pre-dating the Ryder Cup, first played for in 1927, by 5 years.
The USA team is selected by the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the GB&I one by The Royal & Ancient (R&A).
An international match was first suggested in December 1920 by George Herbert “Bert” Walker, who was the President of the USGA at that time.
Following World War I Walker was looking for ways to foster international relations and raise the profile of the game. Having attended the exciting final of the 1920 Amateur Championship at Muirfield, where Cyril Tolley (ENG) beat Robert Gardner (USA) on the 37th hole, he was persuaded that international competition was the way forward.
Walker was the maternal grandfather and great-grandfather of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush respectively, the 41st and 43rd Presidents of the United States.
With his plan approved Mr. Walker commissioned Tiffany & Co. to produce a silver trophy. A trophy measuring 36″ in height and 20″ in width and inscribed “The United States Golf Association International Challenge Trophy” was finished in May 2021.
Walker invited all golfing nations to compete for the trophy. However, in the aftermath of The Great War none of the other countries were able to fund or raise a suitable team.
This is the point at which the role of William ‘Bill’ C. Fownes Jr needs to be recorded. Fownes was an experienced and successful player from Oakmont C.C. as well as an influential USGA Committee man. He had led the USA team in International Matches against Canada in 1919 and 1920. Subsequently he set his heart on a USA player winning the Amateur Championship and was determined to lead a strong group across the Atlantic in 1921 to hopefully achieve this goal.
Fownes persuaded seven other leading American players to travel to England to play in the 1921 Amateur Championship at Royal Liverpool G.C. With the spirit of international competition in the air an unofficial match between USA and Great Britain was arranged as a precursor to the main event.
USA proved their credentials by winning the 1921 match 9-3 and with further discussion taking place between the two governing bodies, The USGA and The R&A, an agreement to an international match between USA and Great Britain & Ireland was reached. Without Fownes’ determination and resourcefulness who knows whether the course of history would have taken the same route.
The first proper match, by that time christened ‘The Walker Cup’ by the press, then took place in 1922 at National Golf Links of America, the home club of Walker.
The match has always been played in a good spirit with the traditions of the game and the friendship between the USGA and R&A, golf’s two governing bodies, at it’s heart.
The 48th Walker Cup match took place at Seminole G.C. in Florida, USA in September 2021. USA won 14 – 10 and now lead the 97 year old competition W38-L9-D1.
This unassailable lead is a result of the one-sided nature of the matches up until 1987. USA won 28 out of the first 31 matches, with GB&I winning just two and halving the other.
Signed 2019 Walker Cup Flag (Photo: GolfBible)
This one-sided history should come as no surprise given the differences in population and amateur golfing structure. The USA has a population of 320m whereas GB&I has only 70m. The US College system also provides a structured pathway to the pro game for US players which means that few consider turning pro until they are at least 22. Without this option the GB&I team continue to fight a losing battle with the pro game to retain their stronger young players.
Thankfully since 1989 the contests have become far more competitive with GB&I winning 7 of the 17 matches contested in this more recent period.
Since the start of the 1990’s home advantage has become key with away wins increasingly scarce. Up until the USA’s 2019 away win the previous 5 matches had all been won by the home team and there has now been just 4 away wins out of the last 15 contests.
The next Walker Cup match will be played in September 2023 on the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland.
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